From the Left



Diverse Pathways in Education and Life, Part II: The Real-Life Stories of Jean Pierre, Maria, and Lee

Luis Martinez-Fernandez on

In part one of this column, we followed the educational trajectories of three high school students: Pedro, who got low math grades in high school but surprised everyone, including himself, when he received the school's highest standardized test math scores; Cliff, who was routinely absent from school but missed only one class in nearly a decade of higher education; and Lauren, who went from nonreader to multiple-award-winning author.

Here are three similar stories.


Jean Pierre was a free-spirited, sociable, and gregarious high school student with leadership qualities and a witty, if at times untimely, sense of humor. Those are welcomed attributes in a graduate school seminar and in virtually every job from sales to public speaking, but in Jean Pierre's school they could, as they did, get one into trouble.

Unbeknownst to Jean Pierre, an admissions recruiter from a North Carolina college came to his school ready to offer him a soccer scholarship. During the Q & A session following the recruiter's presentation, Jean Pierre decided to play class clown. The best question that he could come up with was whether the college's basketball players dunked.

Expensive little joke it turned out to be. The principal requested that the scholarship be rescinded and sentenced him to a three-day suspension.


Eventually, the parts of Jean Pierre's brain that assess risks reached full maturity and he learned to use humor only when and where appropriate. At the age of twenty-six, he received a full-ride scholarship with generous yearly stipends to pursue a Ph.D. at North Carolina's most prestigious university.


Like one in four Americans, "Maria" was afraid of public speaking, a condition known as glossophobia. One day in her college sophomore year, her literature professor asked her to read aloud an essay she had written. The request caught her off guard; she was nervous and started to make a barely audible presentation. The professor stopped Maria, scolded her for her poor performance and asked her to sit down.

Over the years, Maria gained confidence to the point of being comfortable, and actually enjoying, speaking in front of audiences as large as a couple thousand. These days, she doesn't think twice about giving live radio and TV interviews.


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